We went over three points in Nozick’s political philosophy:
Nozick’s claims are extremely abstract.
For instance, the claim that rights take the form of side constraints is only supposed to single out one feature of moral rights. It’s unlike the other readings we did in that it doesn’t attempt to capture the central or distinctive feature of rights.
His theory of justice leaves more questions than it provides answers. What, for instance, are the principles of acquisition, transfer, and restitution? There isn’t much of an attempt to spell them out. There is only the claim that these are the only kinds of principles consistent with liberty.
On the one hand, that’s why this is brilliant stuff. He seems to be able to make very broad claims on the basis of seemingly clear premises. On the other hand, this level of abstraction often leaves so many questions open that it threatens to undermine the original premises.
For instance, I thought you all did a very effective job of questioning whether rights really do take the form of side constraints. There are so many exceptions to the rights that we commonly recognize, after all. So why is it obvious that they take this form?
Even if rights don’t generally take the form of goals, as Nozick argues, it doesn’t follow that they take the form of side constraints. Maybe there’s a third alternative. Or, at most, rights seem to act as partial constraints. They rule out some ways of crossing a person’s ‘boundaries’ but not all of them.